On a day when the NFL handed down their player suspensions to four members of the New Orleans Saints, Junior Seau stole the headlines with his suicide. A dark day for the NFL for certain. The irony of both events is that they fell on the same day and in some way may be linked together forever. On a day when NFL fans and media should have been debating the judgement of Roger Goodell, instead they debated the reason behind Junior Seau’s death.
The death of Junior Seau is the first high-profile suicide of an NFL player in decades. While it is impossible to determine the reasons behind his suicide, some will inevitably point to the recent acknowledgement of players suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE’s. Junior Seau was one of the most dominant forces in NFL history, a sure bet to be elected to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 2015 despite the news from yesterday.
On the field, Seau was tenacious and off the field he was gracious. Often seen shaking hands with fans and signing autographs, it seemed that while Seau loved the spotlight and the competition of the game, he embraced the celebrity status it brought him and he gave that back at every turn. Former teammates hailed Seau as a jovial positive presence in every locker room he was a part of. A leader and a teacher of a game he loved.
He will never be remembered for the way he died but instead for the way he lived and played the game of football. He will be remembered for his gratitude towards the fans and towards his teammates and friends. His death is but a footnote. Some say that Seau was never able to fully embrace football after it was over. A quiet man while playing, Seau was questioned about domestic abuse and previously was involved in a car accident that some suspected to be a suicide attempt. Close friends say that he appeared depressed at times. A significant sign of CTE.
While the NFL mourned the loss of Seau yesterday and still do today, the irony of the NFL’s judgement against Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita, and Anthony Hargrove will further link the death of Seau to the brutality of the NFL. The New Orleans Saints bounty program puts a deeper perspective into the business of the NFL where winning is the only thing that seems to matter.
The pressures to win at all levels of play isn’t taken lightly. Millions of dollars are at stake for kids entering the NFL from the college ranks and the draft alone is one of the most viewed sporting events yearly. Most in the media and many fans detest the Saints bounty program where players were offered money for taking out key opposition during games. The suspensions were just in my opinion. However, in an era of NFL concern with the repercussions surrounding head trauma and concussions, it’s a bold exclamation point that the death of Seau would come on the same day that the NFL’s biggest black eye since “SpyGate” came to a finality.
Head hunting in the NFL has always existed. Miami Dolphins Bob Griese told media that there were never bounty programs in the NFL when he played, simply because the opposing team wanted to kill the QB. Wanted to take the QB out of the game. As he said it, you take out the QB and you take away most of the offense.
The NFL is battling serious image issues right now. A lawsuit presented by former players totaling in the hundreds is currently heading to court. The league is still recovering from last year’s lockout, and the bounty scandal has had far reaching consequences if for no other reason then it came from one of the more popular and squeaky clean organizations.
The death of Seau, regardless of whether it is ever proven to be a result of his playing days will still serve as a key to unlocking the future for the NFL and the way the handle head trauma on the field. His death bring awareness to the problems that the NFL is facing with player safety even at a time when the players themselves seem hell bent on playing with reckless abandon.
In 10 years, it’s unlikely that anyone will remember off the top of their head the events of the NFL’s suspension of those four Saints. The bounty scandal will be an afterthought. Junior Seau however will always be remembered for the way he played and perhaps someday, we will look back on his death and realize the importance of player safety and know that the rules in place are to protect the present players from suffering the same long after the game is over.